Greek versus Gothic—porticoes and columns versus pinnacles and spires—it was a struggle that could have gone either way, with the new British Houses of Parliament (1835–1847) built to resemble the Parthenon. But after Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin entered the lists the issue was never in doubt. He had matchless energy; he turned an idle taste for medieval decor into an architecture of serious religious conviction; and between about 1830 until the 1880s the advocates of “pointed” architecture increasingly had their way. As Rosemary Hill says in her superb biography of Pugin, God’s Architect, the growing influence he exercised in these years substantially changed the face of Britain.

It needed changing—politically as well as architecturally. On the one hand was the tide of social discontent leading to the Reform Bill of 1832. On the other was the steady disfigurement of town and landscape...


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